Battery electric car sales finally overtook the diesel institution in Europe

Battery-electric car sales overtook diesel for the first time in Europe, the Financial Times reported Sunday.

This is an important milestone, as diesel has been the default choice for European car buyers for decades. Registrations of new “electrified” vehicles—including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric cars combined—pushed past diesel in September 2020, but this is the first time battery-electric models have outsold diesels on their own, the report said.

In December 2021, more than one fifth of new cars sold across 18 European markets were all-electric, while diesel cars (including diesel hybrids) accounted for less than 19% of sales, according to the report, which is based on data compiled by the Financial Times and independent auto analyst Matthias Schmidt.

2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS production at plant in Sindelfingen, Germany

2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS production at plant in Sindelfingen, Germany

Approximately 176,000 battery-electric vehicles were sold in Western Europe that month, compared to around 160,000 diesel cars, the report said. That total is also an all-time record for European EV sales, and is more than 6% higher than the comparable figure for December 2020, according to the report.

The historic institution of diesel cars was due in part to European subsidies for diesel fuel, which created an artificially strong market. Europe was electrifying at a slow pace, but the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal proved to be a key tipping point.

European EV sales have rising steadily since the VW scandal, helped by generous incentives in countries like Germany, as well as stricter European Union regulations introduced in 2020 that force automakers to sell more low-emission vehicles, according to the report.

Citroën ë-C4

Citroën ë-C4

Sales accelerated in late 2021 thanks in part to Tesla’s strong fourth-quarter delivery volumes, and European automakers pushing EV sales into December to hit fleet emissions targets, the report said. Those automakers had reportedly prioritized more profitable internal-combustion SUVs earlier in the year as they dealt with the supply chain crisis.

As data from industry groups and the EU emphasizes, Europe is moving at two speeds on EV adoption, however. A 2020 report found that EV adoption was moving much faster in wealthier countries—likely including most of the Western European nations from the Financial Times report—and slower in poorer countries.

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